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Cinematically speaking, it's a bad sign when a teleporting blue guy is about to knife the president of the United States in the Oval Office and all you can do is contemplate whether this opening scene's accompanying soundtrack is the Dies Irae from Mozart's Requiem. It's an even worse sign when that's the most engaged thought you're able to muster for the next two hours.

It is the Dies Irae, incidentally, and Mozart's masterpiece is the only part of X2 that truly flies. The X-Men franchise has always verged on too much of a good thing. An overabundance of available lead characters was a disaster with which the 2000 movie X-Men flirted and, unfortunately, one the sucker sequel swallows whole. How shall I overwhelm thee? Let me count the ways: Wolverine, Storm, Dr. Jean Grey, Cyclops, Mystique, Magneto, Professor Xavier, Rogue, Nightcrawler, Shadowcat, Iceman, Pyro. With this many mutants bumping around (not to mention those token humans), it's a wonder anyone has time -- or elbow room -- to fight the bad guys. But it's no wonder at all that the audience is left glazed and confused.

The wafer-thin first film skated to satisfactory reviews on a few instances of extraordinary chemistry. The novelty of seeing Patrick Stewart's Professor Xavier and Ian McKellen's Magneto in a Shakespearean square-off made plot a secondary consideration, and the pathos generated by Hugh Jackman's lone Wolverine and his relationship to Anna Paquin's Rogue gave the movie a surprising heart. No such luck the second time around, in what is fundamentally a nonsense, non sequitur of a movie.

X2 begins with the aforementioned assassination attempt, an act that threatens to spark a full-on war between the mutants, who just want us all to get along, and the humans, who irrationally fear these creatures with the powers of gods. To make matters worse (and inevitably more complicated), Magneto and his azure Amazon, Mystique (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos), are not the big bads behind this dastardly deed, so our cheerless zeroes must team up with their former nemeses, without so much as a by your leave or even one solid existentialist squabble.

The force they fight is Stryker, an ordinary and not-so-much-menacing-as-irritating army general played by the hard-nosed Brian Cox. Stryker hates mutants because, of course, his son is one and that didn't work out so well for anyone. Blah, blah, blah, there's some mind control that goes on, Magneto changes the game plan halfway through the fight, there's a dam that's threatening to burst, and one of our bazillion leads must contemplate making the ultimate sacrifice. With so many to choose from, who could care?

The script (worked on by almost as many writers as there are cast members) isn't intricate; it's just complicated. And it falls back into itself like the gaping black hole that it is. Director Bryan Singer (The Usual Suspects, X-Men) obviously has fun with all the fancy pyrotechnics, but can't even seem to make the West Wing look as believable as, well, The West Wing.

This movie, not to put too fine a point on it, sucks. Half the cast deserves its fate. While Storm's superhero talent is weather and climate control, Halle Berry's only ability is leaving an audience cold. Her hoary-headed heroine stems from the cocker spaniel school of acting, that of cocking the head and making teary puppy dog eyes. Famke Janssen's Jean Grey, on the other hand, is a true study in frigidity; her psychic skills give her the power to tap into other people's humanity, but apparently not her own. Cyclops is always an ass, never more so than when embodied by actor James Marsden (who, it should be noted, cries like a little girl during the film's critical emotional moment).

The other half of the cast obviously thought they were slumming in a decent Hollywood summer blockbuster. How shocked they must be. Stewart, Jackman, McKellen, Cox, the impish Alan Cumming (whose Nightcrawler is almost an interesting addition, but not quite) and even Anna Paquin are achingly better than the absurd material that surrounds them. Still, if wishes were horses, these box office beggars would be trampled along with the rest of their X2 compatriots. Justice for all, baby.

Most movies this empty and defective would be future deal killers. But that's supposing the continuation of the series actually depended on quality -- the X-Men have always been sure things, and the vacuity of X2 lays bare the money grab. One minor character exists only to set up the next movie, a fact that could be forgiven if the whole bloody mess of a movie wasn't so obviously doing the exact same thing. The filmmakers -- the once-promising Singer included -- obviously thought dangling the promise (threat?) of a third installment was enough to get by and brazenly settle for a dreary, dull and sad X communication.

click to enlarge Twice as ice: Famke Janssen and Halle Berry star in - the sad X2. - KERRY HAYES/SMPSP
  • Kerry Hayes/SMPSP
  • Twice as ice: Famke Janssen and Halle Berry star in the sad X2.
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